For non-Geordies reading this post ‘Gan Canny’ is a phrase meaning take it easy. It can be said after yakking with yer marra, putting the world to rights – which means talking to your friend and solving all our problems.
Av’ yer got that reet? Champion. I went into Sunderland city centre to check out the new Fire Station music & theatre venue and stayed for a canny bit o’ scran. If non Geordies are still following that means ‘some nice food’. Also on my list was to see the new sculpture just around the corner in Keel Square.
I visit galleries and museums where fantastic paintings and great skill is on show like in Madrid’s Prado, Scotland’s National and Newcastle’s Laing, unlike the contemporary art in Gateshead’s Baltic which leaves me cold.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve seen good contemporary stuff in New York’s MOMA and the Pompidou in Paris but the Tracey Emin tent and unmade bed in Tate London some years ago looked like a sixth form art project.
An outside location is a different challenge, the position is all important. Gateshead got it spot on with The Angel of the North placed at the top of a hill on a former colliery next to the A1 motorway and seen by thousands of cars daily. The artist Antony Gormley originally made small models of the design but it was Hartlepool Steel Fabrications who produced what you see now.
Gan Canny installed in December 2021, is the latest work by Ray Lonsdale and is placed a stone’s throw away from where the Vaux Breweries were in Sunderland. Gan Canny is a life sized sculpture of a driver and his assistant and two horses pulling a cart loaded with barrels and crates of Vaux beer. The detail is fantastic with a bucket and shovel for the horse muck – three balls of it – and the assistant feeding the horse lumps of sugar – no doubt the driver’s gesture is ‘gan canny with that sugar’.
Ray also produced 11.01 the nine foot tall soldier at Seaham, 11.01 refers to the first minute of peace, as the First World War armistice started at 11am on the 11th November 1918.
The red steel sculpture now known affectionately as Tommy, is sitting with his helmet on, holding his gun and looking down – is he weary from a day’s fighting and seeing some of his marras being injured or killed ? Or catching his breath and preparing himself to go over the top ?
Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages, paying respects, laying a flower or small wooden cross, maybe reflecting on how wars have impacted the lives of friends, relatives, or their own lives. I experienced a similar atmosphere the other week when I visited The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands.
Lonsdale also created Fiddlers Green at North Shields – a memorial to lost fishermen off the North East coast. Loss is a major theme running through here and the Gan Canny sculpture reminds me of the loss of a slower pace of life. I’m old enough to remember a time when the rag an’ bone man with his horse and cart trotted down the back lane shouting ‘any ole rags’.
But this new sculpture by Ray is to celebrate Sunderland’s connection with Vaux Breweries, who for over 150 year were major employers in the city. Although not the emotional heft of Tommy, Gan Canny is worth going back for.
More works by Ray Lonsdale can be seen right across the North from Gretna Green in Dumfries down to Middlesborough on Teesside.
Alikivi September 2022